Accidents happen.  Sometimes they can be preventable, other times they can come out of nowhere and leave a small business is shambles.

With a proper crisis communications plan, you can prevent internal chaos.

Although nobody wants to think of the worst possible situation, it is important to anticipate anything that can go wrong.  Because of this, it is imperative for a small business to consider developing a crisis communication and contingency plan that would help to keep operations moving along as smooth as possible when disaster occurs.

Owning a small business can be tough with all of the responsibilities that come with the independence of working for one’s self.  It is strongly encouraged to utilize a public relations or communications firm that would be able to jump in and assist in all forms of communications in the event of a crisis.

Remember that it is not only about updating your website with pertinent information, but having a fluid message across all forms of social media.  Do you have somebody to manage comments and give educated responses on site such as Facebook and Google+?  How about ensuring that your brand is not tarnished with negative reviews or press on Twitter?  As a small business owner, there are so many things that you have to address in order to get the business back on track.

In events such as a fire or even a criminal act such as a robbery, traditional media outlets will most likely pick up the information and be quick to make contact.  You want to be sure that you have a seasoned spokesperson who knows how to eloquently represent the business by communicating that the situation is under control or making sure to not hastily place the blame on outside parties.

Before anything else, you need to identify all stakeholders involved.  A stakeholder is anybody that can be directly or indirectly affected by the actions, behaviors and activities of your business.

Here is a short list of some potential stakeholders as identified by Ready.gov:

  • Customers
  • Survivors impacted by the incident and their families
  • Employees and their families
  • News media
  • Community—especially neighbors living near the facility
  • Company management, directors and investors
  • Government elected officials, regulators and other authorities
  • Suppliers

Now each of these groups should be addressed in very different manners.  It is inappropriate to send the same message to a customer as it would be to a supplier, for example.

If necessary based on the context of the crisis, a pop-up emergency center should be created where professionals are instructed with the proper messages to provide to the various parties that are involved.

Here is a great example, again from Ready.gov, of what type of events may happen, and some example messages to provide to the different stakeholders:

  • accidents that injure employees or others
  • property damage to company facilities
  • liability associated injury to or damage sustained by others
  • production or service interruptions
  • chemical spills or releases with potential off-site consequences, including environmental
  • product quality issues

Messages should be scripted to address the specific needs of each audience, which may include:

Customer – “When will I receive my order?” “What will you give me to compensate for the delay?”

Employee – “When should I report to work?” “Will I have a job?” “Will I get paid during the shutdown or can I collect unemployment?” “What happened to my co-worker?” “What are you going to do to address my safety?” “Is it safe to go back to work?”

Government Regulator – “When did it happen?” “What happened (details about the incident)?” “What are the impacts (injuries, deaths, environmental contamination, safety of consumers, etc.)?”

Elected Official – “What is the impact on the community (hazards and economy)?” “How many employees will be affected?” “When will you be back up and running?”

Suppliers – “When should we resume deliveries and where should we ship to?”

Management – “What happened?” “When did it happen?” “Was anyone injured?” “How bad is the property damage?” “How long do you think production will be down?”

Neighbors in the Community – “How can I be sure it’s safe to go outside?” “What are you going to do to prevent this from happening again?” “How do I get paid for the loss I incurred?”

News Media – “What happened?” “Who was injured?” “What is the estimated loss?” “What caused the incident?” “What are you going to do to prevent it from happening again?” “Who is responsible?”

When an incident happens, it should not be hidden from the public, nor stalled for extended periods of time before any action is taken.  A good example of a large company that didn’t do such a great job with its contingency strategy was BP during its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that caused severe devastation to the ecosystem and economy.

A shot of the deep water oil rig that exploded in April, 2010.

It took the company about a week before the CEO made a public statement, and when he finally began to speak, it wasn’t very well accepted.  CEO, Tony Hayward, was even quoted saying, “I want my life back,” which showed his lack of empathy to the thousands of people whose lives were completely changed by this horrible event.

These suggestions are merely a start to a crisis communications plan, but display how communication is quite necessary.  You can contact me at jennifer@desalvomarketingandmedia.com for additional direction and resources as to how to start a crisis communications for your own business.  Remember, the key is to be proactive in a less than desirable situation, not reactive.

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